Kyphosis in Children
What is kyphosis in children?
Kyphosis is a deformity of the backbone (spine). It’s when the bones of the spine (vertebrae) in the upper back curve outward more than they should. A child with kyphosis has a back that is abnormally rounded or humpback. The condition is more common in girls than in boys.
A normal spine when looked at from behind appears straight. It can have a curve of 20 degrees to 45 degrees in the upper part of the back. With kyphosis, the curve can be 50 degrees or more.
What causes kyphosis in a child?
A child can be born with kyphosis. Or they can develop it because of other health reasons. These include:
- Metabolic problems
- Neuromuscular conditions
- Brittle bone disease (osteogenesis imperfecta), which causes bones to break easily
- Spina bifida
- Scheuermann disease, which causes the vertebrae to curve forward in the upper back
Kyphosis can also be caused by slouching. In such cases, it is called postural kyphosis. This is the most common type. It’s often first noticed in the teen years.
What are the symptoms of kyphosis in a child?
These are the most common symptoms of kyphosis. Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. They can include:
- Difference in shoulder height
- The head bends forward compared with the rest of the body
- Difference in shoulder blade height or position
- Upper back looks higher than normal when the child bends forward
- Tight muscles in the back of the thigh (hamstring)
The symptoms of kyphosis may seem like other back problems. Or they may be a result of an injury or infection. Make sure your child sees their healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is kyphosis diagnosed in a child?
Your child’s healthcare provider can diagnose kyphosis with a complete health history of your child, a physical exam, and certain tests. The provider will want to know if there is any family history of kyphosis. The provider will also ask about developmental milestones since some types of kyphosis can be linked to other neuromuscular problems.
Your child may need these tests:
- X-rays. This test can make images of internal tissues, bones, and organs. It can measure the angle of your child’s spinal curve. Treatment is often based on this measurement.
- Bone scans. This test can rule out any infection or broken bones in your child’s back.
- MRI. This test uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to make detailed images of organs and structures within the body. It can rule out any other problems of the spinal cord and nerves.
- CT scan. This test uses X-rays and a computer to make detailed images of the body.
- Blood tests
Finding kyphosis early is important for successful treatment. If the condition is left untreated, it can lead to problems with lung function. Healthcare providers, and even some school programs, routinely look for signs of kyphosis in children. Your child may need some other tests such as pulmonary function testing to see if there is any impact on your child's breathing.
How is kyphosis treated in a child?
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.
The goal of treatment is to stop the curve from getting worse and prevent deformity. Treatment may include:
- Observation and repeated exams. Your child will need to see their healthcare provider regularly. Whether the curve gets worse depends on the amount of skeletal growth, or how skeletally mature your child is. Curving of the spine often slows down or stops after a child reaches puberty. Pain is commonly treated with over-the-counter medicines such as ibuprofen.
- Exercises. If your child’s kyphosis is because of slouching, certain exercises can fix their posture.
- Bracing. If your child is still growing, they may need a brace for some time.
- Surgery. In rare cases, your child may need surgery when the curve measures 75 degrees or more and bracing has not slowed down the progression of the curve.
Key points about kyphosis in children
- Kyphosis is a problem with the spine. It’s when the bones of the spine in the upper back curve outward more than normal.
- A child can be born with kyphosis. Or they can develop it because of other health problems. Slouching can also lead to it.
- A difference in shoulder height and a forward bent head can be signs of kyphosis.
- Depending on the cause of kyphosis, your child may need a brace, exercises, or even surgery.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.